I’ve been at home for several days surrounded by two small boys with various fluids leaching out of their little nostrils and other, even less attractive body parts. This is a rough state of affairs in combination with the January doldrums. So to ward off the darkness I headed into my
basement lair studio to survey the many projects I have going on, most of which are in a suspended state, littering the floor and every available surface as though the studio was formerly filled with little elves, hard at work with paintbrushes and tiny hammers when a fire alarm sounded and every last one of them fled in a panic, never to return. A sort of DIY disaster scene. Paint cans stacked on top of each other, a few with the paint dried into oblivion, because I only intended to dash upstairs, just for a minute, so there was no need to secure the lid; I was coming right back to finish the job and so on and so forth. And then there are the scattered tools, lamps in need of re-wiring, paint brushes languishing in dirty water, and a side table painted with a coat of primer that has acquired its own patina…
But here’s a thought worth expressing: the only way to get things done is to do them. I know. Profound. But pathetically obvious or not, I repeat this idea to myself again and again, like a mantra, because if I had my way I would spend my day wandering around my house, watching reality TV and reading periodicals, eating entire bowls of popcorn, half-dazed, while I “thought about things”. I have always lived primarily in my head, and one reason I keep piling on the projects is to make myself leave my room now and then. Oh yeah, and having kids is good for that too. That’s why I’m having a third baby, so I’m forced to think about something other than The New York Times Book Review, and how I could write better reviews — and better books! — than 90% of what appears in that shoddy publication week after week. I just know I could — if only they would give me the chance! Please give me the chance!
One of these lingering projects — and this one has no real cultural or commercial value, so it is a bad idea for me to still be obsessed with it — is The Dollhouse. I bought this great old handmade dollhouse at the flea market an embarrassingly long time ago where it, like much of what populates my life, went on to languish in the basement, barely escaping the clutches of my husband who does not understand the appeal of miniatures. He seems to perceive the dollhouse literally. As a house for dolls. So he doesn’t get why I still want it, since I don’t play with dolls (on general principle). But as any fool could tell you, the term dollhouse is a misnomer. The ideal dollhouse is actually the province of the 70-year-old male hobbyist, shuffling around his workshop and muttering over installing tiny working lights, a perfectionist who salivates at the challenge of re-creating all the boring components of our big world in perfect 1:12 scale. Reader, I’m no 70-year-old man, so where does that leave me? With an unfinished dollhouse that I can’t quite get rid of because I have a fascination, like a lot of people, with tiny worlds. Not dolls themselves, but the rooms they inhabit. A few children’s books come to mind. The Borrowers, for instance, or one of my all-time favorites: Big Susan. A slightly weird picture book about a family of dolls coming to life every Christmas Eve. I haven’t read it since childhood but can still see the amazing illustrations in my mind’s eye.
But today, in mulling over my many projects, left unsupervised in the basement to breed like rabbits, I repeated to myself the mantra: the only way to get things done is to do them. So I began painting. And I made progress, and then I became excited about working on — even finishing — the dollhouse, among other, more significant things on my to-do list. I painted and painted, and I didn’t wish I was upstairs reading the Book Review, or eating popcorn. My children were orderly and adorable, and there was the smell of clean laundry emanating from the clothes dryer, and I was humming. Also, my hair looked fantastic, and I think I even lost a few pounds while I was down there. And when I finished painting, I placed the lid securely on top of the paint can, just in case I don’t make it back tomorrow.